The BBC and World War Two

100 voices that made the BBC

On 3 September 1939 Britain went to war with Hitler’s Germany. In the fight against fascism, broadcasting played a starring role: as informant, morale-booster, propaganda weapon.

Eighty years on, we’re opening-up the archives to shed new light on how the BBC shaped the experience of war – and how war transformed the BBC in return.

  • "This country is at war"War was announced on 3 September 1939. But the BBC had been secretly preparing for years, so that broadcasting might carry-on whatever happened.
  • The 'Bore' WarNewly-released material from the BBC’s archive reveals some of the behind-the-scenes struggles to keep the British people entertained and informed in the early months of the War
  • The BBC in the BlitzBroadcasters, like their fellow citizens, were forced to work - and live - under extraordinary conditions.
  • The Bombing of Broadcasting HouseThe BBC’s iconic headquarters, Broadcasting House in London, suffered two direct hits in the Blitz – causing widespread damage, several deaths, and many injuries.
  • Morale and MusicA tone of upright formality – or of intimate warmth? Here, newly-released archives show how the BBC sought to measure – and influence – the public mood.
  • The Secret WarThe wartime BBC was involved in a range of top secret activities, working closely with the intelligence agencies and military.
  • AlliesHere, the BBC’s archives provide new insights on broadcasting’s wartime role in the arena of soft-power politics and cultural diplomacy.
  • IconsThe BBC’s wartime broadcasting accorded star-status to a small group of men and women who turned out to be exceptional performers before the microphone. But what were they like off-air?
  • For the ForcesThe Forces Programme is fondly remembered. But here the archives reveal the less well-known story of the BBC’s radio service for American, Canadian and British troops landing on D-Day, and the rows it provoked.
  • D-DayOn 6 June 1944, it was from the BBC that the world learned that D-Day was finally happening.
  • War ReportThe ‘night-by-night’ coverage of the war proved to be a huge critical and popular success. But, not everything ran smoothly behind-the-scenes.
  • VE DayA day of celebration to mark the Allied victory in Europe. It was also a day in which the BBC would try to capture the mood not just of Britain, but of the wider world.
  • 1943 Berlin Blitz in 360˚In 1943 BBC War Report correspondent Wynford Vaughan Thomas broadcast from a Lancaster bomber during a raid over Berlin. See and hear the historic broadcast in this 360˚ video.
  • The BBC and World War Two - picture gallery Images of the BBC as seen on the brink of war in 1939, during the war, and beyond.
  • Share your memoriesLet us have your comments, thoughts and ideas.
  • Background to the projectLyse Doucet, Chief International Correspondent BBC World Service & BBC World News, explores some of the rich archive discovered in this latest release from the BBC Oral History Collection.
  • A Long War? The Road to 1989The end of hostilities in Europe in May 1945 signalled the end of the Second World War. Yet, the political, technological, and cultural revolutions that war had released would continue well beyond 1945.

About 100 Voices that Made the BBC

This 100 Voices website is one of a series made as part of Connected Histories of the BBC – a project led by the University of Sussex, in partnership with the BBC, Mass Observation, the Science Museum Group and the British Entertainment History Project. The project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Material in this edition is curated and written by David Hendy and Alban Webb from the University of Sussex, with additional material from John Escolme (BBC).

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